The African Union- Lack of Will or Lack of Power?

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Sometimes I mention the African Union and some people ask me ‘What’s that?

This question, the recent coup d’état crisis and the subsequent suspension of Mali’s membership by the African Union, impresses the need for information about the organisation and what this means for Mali. My blind affinity for Pan-African unity and recognition makes me feel that people must get to know the AU.

The African Union is a result of the Pan- African movement that sought for a recognition of Africans all over the world, united by a political and cultural entity. It was created to show solidarity between Africans and members of the black diaspora and to show pride and recovery of injured dignity. The purpose of this pan- African movement was to see the end of slave trade and colonization, restoring self-governance in Africa. It consisted of several conferences that condemned the status quo and advocated for nationalism and liberation. After the second world war, the pan-African movement began to see progress. As new independent states emerged in Africa, they were admitted into the United Nations and in line with the pan -African dream, steps were taken to form an organisation that would foster unity in Africa. Between 1958 and 1962, various summits were held by African states that had gained their independence, to determine the scope and direction of the organisation that would represent African unity.

Now, this is where we hit a glitch. These summits had separated into two groups called the Casablanca and the Monrovia groups. The Casablanca group consisted of countries that wanted an entity united in all aspects and comprising of all African states (Similar to the structure of the EU). The Monrovia group were more concerned about cooperation among African states that would lead to a gradual unification over time. So, while some States considered some sort of supranationalism to be a step in the right direction, others were not willing to give up their new-found freedom just yet. Nevertheless, between these two opposing ideas, a middle ground was realised. In May 1963, the Organization for African Unity was established, and it largely focused on advancing the decolonization of Africa.

By the late 70’s most African countries had gained their political independence and the next logical step was towards economic independence and development. So, at the first Economic summit of the OAU in Nigeria, the Lagos Plan of Action was adopted. This was supposed to be the blueprint for self-reliance and rapid socio-economic development. Other landmark progressions were made towards unity, like the Nairobi African Charter on human and people’s right in 1981 and the Abuja treaty of 1994 which established the African Economic Community. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that the former Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi revived the pan- African movement ideologies to establish an organisation that would have a wider reach. The differing ideologies between the founding states was still present nevertheless, in 2002, the African Union came into effect with its headquarters at Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia and subsequently, the OAU was dissolved. The OAU was a loose association of newly independent states just emerging from the vestiges of colonization. Therefore, the AU was created to fulfil the much needed economic, social and political integration that the OAU failed to achieve.

Now, if you look closely at the structure of the African Union and compare it with the European Union, you would see that the two organisations share many similarities. However, several factors were absent in the creation of the EU, that impede the success of the AU: the lack of consensus on the true nature of the organisation, the disparities in culture, ideology and the economies of the member states, are just few. The African Union has failed so many times to establish and implement a balanced and organised approach to promoting human rights on the continent. Corruption, authoritarian and oppressive regimes run amok without any consequence however, this is not due the lack of will in the AU, but the absence of power and policies that implement harsh consequences for misbehaviour.

Recently the African Union has become more vocal about the oppression and human rights abuses in the African Diaspora which is a step in the right direction but it's not enough. The African Union must overhaul its monitoring, implementation and enforcement system. This is the time to call all member states to go back to the drawing board and determine a better scope of the AU, in order to drive democracy and development on the continent.

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